KHATRIS THE MOST MOBILE AND MAGNIFICENT PEOPLE OF INDIA
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Every caste, every community of India has some special traits which distinguishes it from others in a number of ways. These qualities and characteristics were developed and deepened as time passed and their surroundings changed and they faced and managed the exigencies of life. The Khatris too have long and remarkable history and their social dynamics. They have their ancestry, the social roots of which plunge back to a distant past. They have given to this country its ruling class and some of its outstanding people. The Khatris of Punjab have also played an important role in the history of this state .
This article enumerates their various contributions to different spheres of life. But one thing that makes them unique and special is that all the Ten Masters of Sikhism, who changed Punjab and its future destiny for all times, were born in this caste. The Khatris also played an eminent role in making pioneering efforts in the growth and development of Gurmukhi a script which was to achieve great distinction of being the language of the holy Granth Sahib' The writer traces with great lucidity the ups and downs that this caste has faced through the upheavals of time.
The Khatris are not only the I most beautiful and literate I peopte of all the Indian castes, thev are among the richest being second only to the Banias and the Jains. They were the first community to embrace Sikhism and many of ihem were the first to renounce it but they have yet many more firsts to their credit.
The Kapurs, Khannas, Malhotras, Chopras' Sehgals, Dhawans, Wadhawans, Anands, Chaddas, Sahnis, Suris, Kakkars, Talwars, puris etc. are the surna-mes we often come across in the offices and business houses. These are the Khatris whose original home is the undivided Punjab, roughly west of the river Satluj. ln Punjabi:, as a rule the
Sanskrit syllable 'ksha' is pronounced as 'kha'. Therefore 'raksha' becomes 'rakhia' 'kshama' khima and so on. Similarly the Kshatriya is transformed to Khatri when it entered the Land of Five Rivers. Therefore unquestionably 'Khatri' is the Punjabi form of the Sanskrit word 'Kshatriya'. Philologically 'kshatriya' appears to be connected with the Sanskrit word 'Kshetra' 'dominion' or 'country'. The Khatris claim Kshatriya origin for themselves and are made up of at least three racial elements, Solar, Lunar and the Agni-kula or fire-race. Although it is claimed sometimes that they are really the Rajput Thakurs but "the Rajput characteristics of inflated pride, rigidity etc. are absent in the Khatris". Believes the noted ethnologist Sir Denzil Ebbetson (1883 AD). Further, agriculture has never been their main occupation in sharp contrast to the Kshatriyas of Hindustan. They were the money-lenders and shopkeepers of Punjab and dominated the bureaucracy of this territory as well. Again the Khatri 'gotra' or the sub-castes are different from that of the Rajputs and also no inter-marriages take place between the Khatris and the Raiputs The two other castes of Punjab namely the Aroras and Bhatias also claim the Kshatriya oriqin for them selves. Their appearance and profession are also identical with that of the Khatris. We would, therefore, for the purpose of this study club these three castes into one common class of Khatris.
Of late intermarriages among these communities are also becoming common. In appearance the Khatris resemble their Jatt neighbours. It is likely that some of their tribes entered Punjab from the West and the present race of Khatris was evolved through social interaction with the locals.
One ethnologist, at least believes that the Khatris were a ruling Buddhist clan which on the decline of Buddhism and during the process of their assimilation and absorption into Hinduism claimed the Kshatriya status for themselves. It is believed that Khatris ruled Punjab till the Muslims invaded it, whereafter they accepted secondary positions like ministers, revenue officers and generals under the Muslim rulers. Historians believe that King Porus and Salwan too might have been Khatris. Being the gateway to India, Punjab has seen many an invasion and has undergone several social and economic ups and downs' Khatris, the leading community of Punjab, thus acclimatized and adjusted themselves and learnt to bend before the fury of storms rather than to remain erect and break. They are thus the most practical people. Unlike the other wealthy communities they not only knonw how to amass wealth but also know how to enjoy it to the last rupee. Community wise also they own more cars than any other Indian caste and know how to lead a rich and luxurious life.
At the time of partition, the Khatris left their homes, hearths and havelis in Pakistan and entered India penniless. Delhites often remember how many of them who were tonga drivers, vendors etc. in 1947 or who stayed in jhaupries (straw huts) camps are now millionares of Delhi. A large chunk of Delhi and much of its wealth are now in the hands of the Khatris. The Khatris are slowly climbing the political ladder to regain their supremacy in the capital of India.
It is established by researches that the undivided Punjab, west of river Satluj was the original home of the Khatris. According to Ebbetson the Khatris were found in Peshawar and Afghanistan also, but were, as a rule, confined to the position of humble traders and money lenders. "But in that capacity',' he adds, "the Pathan seems to look at them as a kind of a valuable animal, and the Pathan will often steal another man's Khatri, not only for ransom, as is frequently done in the Frontier region but also as he might steal a milch cow". Punjab was under the Greek rule for about two centuries beginning from 190 BC. Thereafter, on several occasions in history, it was a part of Central Asian empires, for example, the Kushan the Achaemenian, the Arab, the Turkish and the Manghol. lt provided the Khatris (otherwise also a mobile community) a golden opportunity to explore these western regions. There are ample evidences which indicate the wide-spread presence of Punjabi traders, specially in the areas beyond Punjab. A 16th century bronze vessel found at Orsk in Southern Urals, and a fire temple cell discovered in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, bears inscription dated 1714 AD in Gurmukhi . The inscriptions beginning with Japuji records the names of the Guru and the Khatri trader, a Sikh builder of the temple cell. The Khatris presence in Afghanistan has been more than felt even till recently. ln 1831 the Punjabi Maharaja signed a treaty with Shirja-ul-Mulk of Afghanistan on one of the conditions that the comfort and the security of the Khatris in Kabul will be ensured. However according to 1881 census the major cities with-the concentration of Khatris were Multan, Lahore, Amritsar, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. Today perhaps Delhi houses a larger number of Khatris than any other city.
THE FOUNDERS WHO RENOUNCED SIKHISM
At present less than 5% of the Khatris in India are Sikhs (Delhi Tel. Directory). ln 1881 how ever the percentage of Bhapas-as the Sikh Khatris are often referred to by the rural Sikhs, was 9. Around l7fi) AD almost the whole of Khatri population had polarised around theteacfr ings of the Sikh Masters except some who had already embraced islam. Interestingly the Khatris were the first people to embrace Sikhism and were Its first preachers. Accordingly no history of the Khatris would be complete if it is pursued in isolation to Sikhism. Before the advent of Nanak, most of the Punjabis west of Cheneb had become Muslims. Some of them still stood on the fringes from where they could be swept away by the tidal wave of lslam. But for them the great ship of Nanak arrived to take them to a safe haven. The Khatris were immediately swayed by Nanak's revolutionary concept of one God who is omnipresent, omnipotent and beyond time, space and matter. Free from rituals, Sikhism then was a much simple religion. Had there been no Nanak the Khatris might have embraced lslam as Khojas or prachas. Within about 50 years of Nanak's passing away many of them became Namdharik Sikhs. The fact that all the Ten Gurus of the Sikhs came from the Khatri caste might also have contributed to the influx of their Khatri devotees into Sikhism. But the Gurus were very critical of this Khatri caste and would condemn their ‘opportunistic approach'. In principal the Gurus were highly critical of the very caste system in society. lt may however be clearly understood that embracement of Sikhism from Hinduism and lslam was not considered as conversion, though the Fifth Nanak had enunciated, "neither we are Hindus nor Muslims" (G. Granth p.1 1 36).
'Warran' or the ballads of Bhai Gurdas Bhalla (1546-1637 AD), an acknowledged classic among the. Sikh scriptures, makes a detailed mention of the early Sikhs and the Sikh missionaries. Incidentally in the "Varran", are mentioned the names along with gotras of the Sikhs. A surprise for the casual student of Sikh history, the Warran reveals that more than 80% of the early Sikhs and Sikh missionaries came from the Khatri clan.
Gotras or the sub-castes appearing in the Warran are: (Gotras of those other than the Khatri are in italics) :
Popat, Keer, Khera , Mirasi, Sehgal, Diddi, Ladhi, Ohri, Uppal, Monga, Randhawa, Lohar, Julka, Sahi, Deo; Bhandari, Nagauri, Mehta, Bhalla, Passi, Sud, Sabharwal, Khatra, Khullar, Jhihgar, Jhanji, Soni, Vij, Dhir, Bhatt, Tiwari, Bhagat, Chadha, Sekhri; Kapoor, Behl, ,Bhardwaj, Ghai, Kohli, Kandra, Chhimba, Sanghar, Dhillon, Langah, Chhajjal, Goel, pathak, Chandok, Puri, Marwah, Suri, Seth, Beri, Sodhi, Handa, Talwar, Nanda, Tuli, Wadhawan, Ghumar, Ray, Malhan, Saniara, Bhabra and Arora. Some of the places to which prominent missionaries belong, as given in the Warran, are : Kashmir, Kabul, Sarhind, Kuruksheitra, Fatehpur (Sikri), Agra, Sultanpur, Lahore, Gwalior, Ujjain, Burhanpur, Gujrat, Patna, Praypg, Lukhnow, Jaunpur, Decca etc.
Thus 80% of the early Sikhs are from the Khatris while it will be interesting to note that initially all the missionaries or the so called masands were Khatris only. Not only "Warran", even all the Chronicles written prior to 1850 AD give an impression that Sikhism was the religion of the Khatris of the Punjab although it was becoming popular among the Jatts of Punjab also. There are at least a dozen chronicles available in Gurmukhi script which leave this impression that Gurmukhi script was popularized by the Khatris also. With the passage of time almost all the Hindus including Brahmins west of river Ravi became Sikhs. lt will be interesting to note that not long ago i.e. till 1920's all the gurudwaras were managed by Brahmins. They were ousted during the Akali Movement. The forefathers of the present Governor of Punjab B.K.N. Chhibber and Bhai parmanand and Bhai Mahavir were also Sikhs and they are successors of Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Mati Das respectively who were assassinated by Aurangzeb along with Guru Tej Bahadur in 1675, AD.
Disgusted They Renounced it :
Khatris who were the pioneers in accepting, propagating and thus nourishing Sikhism, incidentally became the first community to renounce it as Sikhism was becoming more and more politicized and the latter Gurus were often at daggers drawn with the state. As officers in the government and with much of the business in their hands, the Khatris were thus intimately linked with the state and any strain in the relationship between the state and the faith was a source of embarrassment to them. On the other hand on each and every succession in the guruship, except 'the selection of the Fifth and the Ninth Gurus, the ignored sons of the Gurus would revolt and raise their parallel gurudom Usually the rebel sect thus formed turned out to be pro-state and the pro-government. Khatris would often extend their support to the rebel side.
In 1604 AD, however, another untoward incident occurred. Prince Khusro rebelled against his father Emperor Jahangir ind while fleeing from his father's army he called on Guru Arjun Dev-the Fifth Master and sought his blessings. The Guru was later arrested, tortured and executed at Lahore. Jahangir admits in his memoirs that he nurtured hatred for the Guru and was looking for an appropriate moment to punish him. The Khusro episode provided the Emperor with the necessary stick to beat the Guru. Incidentally, in those days a Khatri named Chandu Shahi was a minister in Delhi and his daughter was betrothed to the son of the Guru. Chandu severed the engagement. He not only developed animosity towards the Guru but also encouraged the rebel Guru Prithia, the son of the Fourth Guru who was ignored at the time of succession. So much so, that even Amritsar; (now called the Golden Temple) passed into the hands of the Pirthia sect called the 'Meena Sikhs and remained in its possession until the advent of the Tenth Guru. Guru Hargobind the Sixth Master further embarrassed the Khatris when he raised an army and fought and won battles against the Mughals. This was disliked by the Khatris who felt that the Guru should restrict himself to spiritualism only. Thus the number of the Meena sect swelled. As the estrangement with the state kept mounting, the Khatris felt more and more suffocated and their tension got aggravated.
The last of the Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh, introduced changes of a far-reaching nature. He abolished the Masands-the missionaries who collected offerings from the Sikhs to pass them on to the Guru. The Masands had become corrupt with the passage of time. He also abolished the system of Guruship and passed it on to the Khalsa brotherhood, who was to be guided by Gurbani (ln persian Khalsa means 'directly linked' and he made Sikhs the Khalsa to God). Further he gave Khalsa an identity which was more martial than spiritualistic in nature. The Guru increased his army and built forts. On the other hand, the changes introduced by the Guru were being vehemently opposed by the Khatri traders and officers. According to Rattan Singh, the author of 'Panth Prakash' (1840 AD), the Khatris referred to the Guru as the 'marela one' i.e. the fighter Guru in a derogatory sense.
According to Kavi Senapati a court poet of Guru Gobind Singh; (Sri Gur Sobha : 1711AD) the merchant 'Sikhs started opposing the Khalsa and questioned the new code, so much so that at Delhi the shops of the Khalsa were forcibly closed for some days until some working compromised was hammered out. "How could they keep arms with them right under the nose of the government ?" they questioned.
Fall of Sarhind :
ln 1708 thre Guru passed away in the Deccan succumbing to the injuries inflicted on him by a Pathan hireling of the Governor of Sarhind. The Sikhs, led by Banda Bahadur, thereafter attacked and plundered Sarhind. The perpetrators of many inhuman atrocities were punished. Th,e whole of the Punjab"revolted and one after the other, the Mughal bastions fell. Bahadur Shah, the successor to Aurangzeb, was alarmed at the rebellion and ordered that the Sikhs be killed at sight. In those days however everybody kept his hair intact, uncut and unshaved (See: India by Al-Biruni). To facilitate the identification of the Khalsas the emperor ordered all the citizens to get hair-cuts and beards shaved. The pronouncement was complied with immediately and thus the barbers had a hay day. Earlier similar 'firmans' were also issued by Aurangzeb twice as he felt that clean shaving means a step, towards 'Sunnat' or conversion. (Akhbar –e- Durbar-e-Maula-The official records of the Mughal emperor). The Akhbar records an interesting episode where a Kayasth feudal (Srivastva, Saxena, Mathur etc.) from near Saharanpur made a mercy plea before the Emperor that he might be spared as he was not a Khatri. Khatri officers in those days were under the strict surveillance of the state.
Hunting of the Sikhs like wild animals commenced and the Khalsa went into hiding. The period from 1710 to 1760 AD is considered a very crucial era in the Sikh history when the persecution of the Sikhs was at its peak. Rewards on Sikh heads were fixed. Cart-loads of the same were brought to Lahore and Amritsar to raise pyramids of the severed heads at public places scare away the rebels.
On the other hand only a fraction of the Khatris had subscribed to the new code according to which the Khalsa was strictly prohibited from shaving his head and beard. Officials and shopkeepers among the Khatris had thus reluctantly complied with the new royal promulgation and thus shaved their beards and had their hair cut. Only a few Khatris who had become Khalsa went underground with their Jatt and Shudra brothers and kept the torch of rebellion alightand burning.
During this critical period, a 'Khatri named Lakhpat Rai was a military commander of the Lahore army. ln order to prove his faithfulness to the Moghuls, he launched a reign of terror on the rebel Khalsa. Atteimpts to persuade him to be mild towards his brothers were in vain. Lakhpat's brother Jaspat was incidentally killed in a skirmish. Lakhpat became more furious that he resolved to finish the Sikhs. During these days two famous Sikh carnages took place where some 40,000 Sikhs were massacred.
Punjab was now cleared of the Sikhs, many of whom fled, to the hills and Rajasthan. So during this turbulent period the Khatis made every attempt to prove that they were not the Sikhs and we rather ordinary Hindus because otherwise they knew they would lose both their possessions and their lives too. On the other hand the Khatris encouraged the Dogra Brahmins, descending down the hills, to sing 'jagrata' and tell the Puranic tales. But the deep reverence for Nanak and his hymns still remained supreme in their minds. During the short rule of the Sikhs lasting for about half a century the Khatris looked after the administration of the Sikh state which was deeply engaged in launching military expeditions. Almost the whole of the non-Muslim population west of Satluj declared itself Sikh. In fact in those days Sikhism was not treated as a religion different from Hinduism. Punjab was annexed by the British in 1849 and the young Sikh emperor as well as the ruler of the Kapurthala state was converted to Chritianity. Again there was an anti Sikh wave. The British were maintaining a strict vigil over the Khalsa. The fence-sitters immediately declared that they were the Hindus' ln the 1881 census the Sikh figure fell just to its half of the 185O-figures.
(Swami) Daya Nand on the other hand was attempting a revolutionary reform in Hinduism but he received only a lukewarm response wherever he in India. He visited Punjab, used gurudwaras for propagating views and was given a rousing come. Shortly thereafter he declared that Nanak's concept of all pervading God was not new was rather already enshrined in Vedas. At this the Khatris felt relieved and thronged the Samaj. Akali Gurudwara Movement made such a polarisation that Khatris felt that a middle path no longer possible. The Akalis moved the idols of the Hindu deities from the periphery of the Golden Temple. Ousted Khatris and Brahmins constructed their own Temple in the form of Durgiana Mandir at Amritsar. Thus the Khatris who nourished Sikhism in its infancy, renounced when militant element in it became manifest. A business can’t afford tension with the state.
Mehras: A famous Khatri family of Amritsar
Bhai Taru Singh,-whose scalp was removed and yet he laughed and lived fore a number of days.
The severed heads of Skhs, raised on javelins, being carried by the Mughal soldiers as trophies to get a prize.
Mr. B.K.N: Chhibbar, Governer Punjab He is one of the descendents of Bhai Sati Das who was martyred along with Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1675 A.D.
A painting representing the famous martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev by Emperor Jahangir'. The Guru was severely tortured and here he is shown sitting on a red-hot girdle.